After 12 years, pop master Claes Oldenburg returns to Pace Gallery for a show of new works this month, united under the title Shelf Life. Incorporating a a range of sculptural techniques and objects into a swirling series of “still life” arrangements, the artist’s work re-contextualizes his own range and output as a sculptor into the broader landscape of his own life. Shown under the name “Oldenburg/van Bruggen” the exhibition feels like something of a tribute to the artist’s late wife Coosje van Bruggen, with whom he built a range of sculptures and projects appearing in smaller scales throughout the exhibition.
Oldenburg’s work in the exhibition seems to suspend his own work in conversation with the life lived around its practice. Plates, cups, stuffed animals and tools are placed around small-scale maquettes for his immense sculptures, built in conjunction with van Bruggen. In one, a series of small-scale bowling pin renderings traipse across the surface of a shelf, placed into conversation with a series of rough-shod bunny rabbit pieces, mixing together the artist’s more iconic studio practice with a range of works that twist his pieces through the lens of the domestic, offering a more private, subdued framework rarely seen in his past works. In others, the artist works his chosen images into engagements with larger, blank forms, like a large pedestal and lumpen heap in one work, adding a surreal undertone to these arrangements that constantly renegotiate and complicate his interest in the sculptures of his past.
There’s a distinctly self-reflective nature to the show, drawing Oldenburg’s own life and work into conversation with his memories of his late wife and the life they shared together. It’s hard not to see the show as a tribute of sorts to his late wife, elevating their collaborative work in a series of votive arrangements that lend a far-more private, contemplative note to the work of an artist long known for his massive public sculptures and engagement with the language of pop culture. Yet at the same time, Oldenburg seems to be using these images and forms as a manner to push his own works forward, filling the gaps and spaces between objects with small inflections of sculptural work that lend a vivid, and often distinctly new formal language to his practice that shows his 12 years away from showing with the gallery were spent developing and re-evaluating his own technique. Even at this late stage in his career, Oldenburg seems committed to to expanding and exploring his own techniques. Shown here amid the varied objects of his past practice, one hopes that these shelves serve as a platform for more work to emerge and develop.
Shelf Life is on view through November 11th.
— D. Creahan
Oldenburg/van Bruggen: Shelf Life [Exhibition Site]